Funerals give families and friends an opportunity to show support for a grieving family and respect to the person who passed away. They’re important events for close and extended friends and family to gather. But what if you can’t attend? What happens if you can’t get the day off of work, you fall ill, or another issue comes up or if they’re not having a funeral at all?
Though it’s always best to attend if possible, if you can’t, then consider sending something to the family in your place. Showing up by way of a card or thoughtful gift can help represent you even if you can’t attend the funeral.
COVID-19 tip: If multiple people can't attend the funeral because of social distancing or travel restrictions, you might ask if the host has considered a virtual or hybrid funeral. A service like GatheringUs can help set up the funeral so that some or all of the guests can attend online.
1. Floral Bouquet
Flowers are a standard gift that can mean a lot to many families. As is typical in a funeral, you can send some arrangements to a family from bouquets in vases to saddle arrangements for the headstone. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when considering what type of flowers to send.
Find out about the meaning of flowers and build a bouquet around special meanings. For example, several flowers associated with death include carnations, roses, lilies, and orchids.
Choose colors that the deceased person particularly enjoyed. If blue was their favorite color, send a bouquet with an emphasis of blue flowers. Keep in mind any travel plans the family have before sending a bouquet. If they’re only in town for the funeral, it’s best to send something else so they aren’t left with a bouquet and no way to get it home.
2. Condolence Card
This is the most important thing you can do and should be done, regardless of any other item on this list. If you can do nothing else, send a card expressing your condolences. When writing a card to the family, consider these tips for offering condolences to help you form an appropriate greeting.
Send a card any time from when you first receive the invitation to several days after the funeral, with the intent of having it arrive before the funeral. Include memories you have of the person who passed away. Consider adding a donation in honor of the person who passed away and include it in the card. Sign it for the whole family if you are sending on behalf of more than yourself.
3. A Plant
Perhaps you may want to send something that lasts longer than flowers, with a bit more significance. A plant works in this situation, and there are plenty of options to consider.
Make sure to take into account what you know of the family’s living situation. If they have a garden, you may want to send a larger flowering plant like a lavender plant or a flowering bush. Do they live in a smaller place without a yard or garden? Send along a houseplant like a succulent or a hardy plant like a Hoya.
Naturally, you may want to reconsider if they are not very into plants.
4. Gift Basket
Sympathy gift baskets are a meaningful way to demonstrate your love, care, and concern for the family and loved ones of someone who passed away. These can be highly personalized to the individual or family receiving the basket. Keep the person you are sending it to in mind when deciding what to get them.
Healthy snack baskets are always helpful during and after funeral proceedings when they’re potentially hosting guests, taking care of paperwork related to the funeral, and handling their loved one’s possessions.
Baskets with tea and coffee can help the family take a much-needed break and care for themselves in the midst of to-do tasks and the grieving process.
Breakfast baskets are especially helpful if the family is hosting relatives before or after the funeral. Providing a breakfast basket such as one including bagels, spreads, and jam can help the family keep their guests well-fed and gives them one less thing to worry about.
5. Photo Book
If you know the person who passed away particularly well and you have photographs of them that the family may not have, then you could put together a photo book for the family.
Consider crafting a digital photo book and adding information to each picture such as dates, locations, and a short description of what the picture represents.
6. Sympathy Blanket
If you’re looking for creative sympathy gifts other than flowers, choose a sympathy blanket. These blankets provide comfort to the grieving family and come in a wide variety. If you know the person who passed away and have a piece of their handwriting, you could even have a customized blanket made with the person’s handwriting and a phrase such as, “I love you” or “I’ll always be with you.”
These can also be customized with a person’s picture or embroidered words. If the family is religious, you might consider finding a religious sympathy blanket that has a poem or favorite hymn written on it.
7. Babysitting Services Gift Card
If the grieving family has small children, consider sending them a condolences card along with a gift card for local babysitting services.
Whether they use the service so they can attend to arrangements related to the death of their loved one or so they can have some time for self-care, they’re sure to appreciate the thoughtful gift.
8. Gift Card
Giving a gift card can ease any needs the family may have, and can be useful to include along with a condolence card.
Choose restaurant cards to give the family an easy dinner solution in the days following the funeral, gas cards if they have to travel significant distances by car, and grocery stores if you know they’re hosting family in the days leading up to or following the funeral.
Join Cake's monthly newsletter.
Learn all you need to know about end-of-life.
9. Voucher for Maid Service
Taking care of regular chores in the wake of something as difficult as losing a loved one is a task they may not even have the energy to think about.
Take house maintenance off their hands by providing maid service for a day or several hours for a few weeks in a row. This might be just what they need to help their lives retain a sense of normalcy in the middle of the grief they’re experiencing.
10. Care Package
Similar to gift baskets, care packages come in a wide variety of assortments. Care packages in particular, place the emphasis on self-care rather than providing something to share for a group of people.
Care packages are easy to put together yourself and customize to the needs of a specific person or couple. Consider adding items like a journal and pen, a blanket, a book on healing and grief, candles, a mug, nice teas or coffees, chocolate, nuts, and biscotti.
11. Memorial Artwork
If you’re creative, crafty, or handy with a pen, pencil, or paintbrush consider crafting a piece of memorial artwork to send to the family.
Paint, sketch, or ink a portrait of the person who passed away. Make a memory book with pictures, notes, drawings, and mementos. Sew a quilt in fabric of their favorite patterns or colors and embroider their name and date for a personalized memorial blanket. Personalization and creativity is the key for anything you decide to create for a grieving family.
12. Memorial Picture
Memorial pictures make excellent gifts for families who have recently lost a loved one. These can be crafted several ways and personalized. Find a meaningful photo regularly used by the family, perhaps in something like their social media posts or even on their memorial event pamphlet. Here are several ways you can choose to craft a memorial picture.
Have the picture professionally printed and framed. Customize with a name plate for their name and date. Some frames may be customized to include a blank space for the family to place a copy of the funeral memorial card.
Print the picture directly onto a slab of wood or canvas and customize with the words, “In memory of” plus the name and dates of the person.
13. Donation in Their Name
It is not uncommon to hear of people asking for donations in lieu of flowers when someone close to them dies. Donations in the name of the deceased are a unique way to honor their memory and support something they were passionate about.
This can be sent along with a sympathy card. Make sure to put the donation in the deceased loved one’s name and include the donation slip or notice of the memorial donation. If you’re unsure of where to donate, consider what they were passionate about and look for nonprofit groups that represent those same things.
Were they passionate about animal welfare? Consider their local animal shelter or the ASPCA. Did they love nature? Give to a nature conservancy. Were they in love with the ocean? Support a group that focuses on preserving marine habitats and ocean cleanup.
14. Memorial Gift
A memorial gift is also a unique way to honor someone through and keep their memory and presence alive in the home of their loved ones.
Memorial gifts can include items like a wind chime that has a person’s name and dates inscribed on a chime, a Christmas ornament with their picture, or commemorative jewelry.
15. Another Person
If you’re unable to attend a funeral, but your spouse or adult child knew the person who passed away, you can consider sending them in your place.
While it won’t be you, the fact that your family is represented will go a long way in providing support and encouragement to the grieving family.
16. Share a Message on an Online Memorial Site
If you can’t attend someone’s funeral, one of the best things to do is to touch base with the family by sharing a message of sympathy on an online memorial site set up in the person’s honor. Most memorial sites that are set up come with an online guest book for friends and family members to sign.
Check to see what the digital guest book allows in terms of message size and uploads. Most provide an unlimited message size along with the ability to upload pictures or videos with your message in honor of the deceased. Some sites are set up Facebook-style with a timeline that allows you to post pictures and descriptions. They are then organized according to date so there is a unique timeline feel to the memorial site.
17. Meal Subscription
Many families are provided with gift baskets of food after someone passes away, but they can only eat so much dried fruits, nuts, oranges, and apples. Once the first days or weeks pass, they’re largely on their own to navigate through grief and the tasks of daily life.
Help them during this time by providing them with a meal subscription. There are numerous subscriptions you can choose from that allow you to customize for preferences and dietary restrictions such as vegan or vegetarian boxes, dairy or nut-free boxes, fish-only boxes, and red meat-free boxes.
If you’re uncertain about dietary restrictions, simply ask a member of the family before you purchase it on their behalf. Then, after the order is placed, be sure to let them know what date the box will arrive, how many meals you’ve included, and how long the subscription is for.
This method of providing easy, fresh-cooked meals can be a real help during the difficult weeks after a funeral.
18. Set Up a Charity Fundraiser on the Deceased’s Behalf
Though this might not work for everyone, if the person was known for promoting a specific charity, project, non-profit, or local society, consider setting up a charity fundraiser in their honor. You can hold an in-person fundraiser on a specific date or set up a fundraiser on online platforms such as Facebook and GoFundMe.
You can let the family know what you’re doing before or after the fundraiser concludes. After you donate the amount to the charity in the person’s honor, you can request a charity donation card to present to the family. The card typically does not specify the amount donated but does tell the family that a donation was made in their loved one’s honor.
19. Text Messages, Emails, and Phone Calls
Though you can’t attend the funeral, you still want the family to know that they are being thought of and cared about. Consider sending a quick text message to tell them that you’ve been thinking of them. Send an email in memorial of the deceased with a picture of yourself and their loved one, and share how much you appreciated and admired the person. Finally, pick up the phone and give them a call.
Stay on long enough to tell them that you’ve been thinking of them and hear how they are, but not so long that they get worn out. Remember, they’re likely fielding a lot of calls and texts at this point, so be courteous of their time. If they don’t pick up, leave a heartfelt voicemail, instead.
If you don’t receive an answer to a text, email, or voicemail, that’s okay. They undoubtedly appreciated your kind words and haven’t had time to say anything back.
Pro-tip: If you don’t have their phone number or email address, send them a private message through a social media platform where you’re connected, instead.
20. Tribute Video
A tribute video is a labor of love but one that can share parts of someone’s life that were previously unknown. Did you spend time with the deceased and have pictures from those moments? Perhaps you went on a vacation together and explored Europe. Maybe you shared several high school years together. Maybe you were neighbors for a while and bonded over your kids’ friendships.
Whatever the occasion, if you have pictures or video clips, they can all be compiled into a tribute video that honors their role in your life. Tribute video-making software often comes with the capability to add voice-over narration or text descriptions that accompany each picture or video clip.
Get as creative as time allows, highlight the best pictures and video clips you have, and send the video in an email, upload it to YouTube and send the link, or mail a physical DVD to the family. They’re sure to appreciate your thoughtfulness and enjoy a glimpse into the life of their loved one that they may only have heard about.
Pro-tip: If sending a DVD in the mail, make sure to place it in a hard case and mail it in a bubble mailer. This is the best way to ensure that the DVD will arrive in one piece.
Supporting from a Distance
Supporting someone through the loss of a loved one is important for their health and wellbeing. Just because you can’t show up at the funeral doesn’t mean your support and encouragement isn’t needed. If you can’t attend, send your support instead and help your friend or family members.